Writing in the immediate aftermath of Usain Bolt’s 100m victory and Andy Murray’s gold at the Olympics, and on the Monday after what was for team GB super Saturday, I can hardly get away without mentioning the Olympics in my weekly post. The whole of the nation seems to be gripped by Olympic fever. Today’s Daily Mail (6-8-12) even points out that if Yorkshire was a country it would be higher in the medal table than Japan, Australia and South Africa!
It can seem superficial when preachers try to compare living for Jesus to athletics, but when you look at the pages of the New Testament, you find that more than once the parallel is drawn between sport and spirituality. Just take a look at Galatians 2.2, 5.7; Philippians 2.16; 1 Timothy 4.7-8; 2 Timothy 2.5; and Hebrews 12.1.
Perhaps the best known usage of sporting imagery is found in 1 Corinthians 9.24-27:
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Paul was no more into amateur spirituality than Usain Bolt is into amateur athletics – despite the Olympic ideal of amateur sport! It’s highly focussed business. You’re watching your diet. You’ve got a coach to push you that little bit harder and draw the best out of you. You don’t allow yourself to be distracted from your overall goal. And you are willing to press through pain – in fact you even put yourself in the way of pain to improve your performance.
When we hear that kind of language, it is easy to react with a “God hasn’t called us to a performance based life”. The mistake that we make – and sometimes the church has made this mistake historically – is that we confuse relationship with God eternally and being effective for God temporally. When you give your life to Jesus you are immediately and forever part of God’s family. But to be an effective member of team Jesus, you have to go into training.
Just recently, I read a book by Warren Weirsbe, 50 People Every Christian Should Know. Some were well-known, some weren’t. Some had obvious flaws. Some had major personal battles. Everyone of them, however, had an incredibly robust devotional life. They were hungry for God.
People like this are the spiritual equivalent of top athletes. They’re running to win.
Enjoy what’s left of the Olympics. I’m sure there are still a few surprises in store. And as you watch these incredible sportsmen and women at the height of their powers, may you be inspired to run with perseverance the race marked out for you (Heb. 12.1) – and to run to win.
I have to leave you with The Message translation of 1 Corinthians 9.24-27:
24-25You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally. 26-27I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.